By Meagan Seeley, as told to Ethan Watters
It’s amazing how easy it can be to overlook critical signals your body may be sending. A little bit of data about what is happening in your body can help you make critical—sometimes even life-saving—decisions. If it hadn’t been for the data I was getting from my Fitbit, I might have waited until it was too late.
My health crisis started in June. Towards the end of that month, I noticed I wasn’t feeling great. But being an eighth grade teacher at the end of a tough year with progress reports to write, I attributed my lack of energy to stress and the June heat. It was over 85 degrees, and I live in Edmonton, in the middle of Alberta, Canada. We are not used to that sort of temperature.
In early July, after school was over, I drove the four hours north to my hometown of Grande Prairie to visit my parents. It was there that my symptoms became worse. Walking up the stairs, I couldn’t catch my breath. I remember putting my head down on the kitchen counter just trying to take deep breaths. I thought, “This is actually kind of scary. I’ve never had this kind of feeling before.”
Even with those symptoms, I looked for excuses. There were wildfires in the area, so the air was smokey, and I was mildly allergic to my brother’s dog. I thought maybe air quality was the reason I was having trouble breathing.
In the end, I was lucky to have my Fitbit. My Versa 2 was a Christmas present I had requested from my parents in 2019, and I had been using it to keep active during COVID. For the most part, I had kept to my goal of 10,000 steps a day and spin classes 5 days a week, totaling 150 Active Zone Minutes. I also loved the sleep tracking and checking out my Sleep Score.
At my parents’ house, I began to notice some unusual readings from my Fitbit. My resting heart rate is usually 55 beats per minute, but with even small movements, my heart rate spiked to over 100 bpm. I figured, Okay, my body is telling me to relax for a day. So I basically sat on my parents’ couch all day. But if I even got up to get a drink of water, I would check my watch and see my heart begin to race.
At the end of that day, my Fitbit showed that I had over seven hours in the Fat Burn Zone, meaning my heart rate was working at 50 to 69 percent of its maximum. But I hadn’t been exercising. When I went to bed that night, I couldn’t actually lay flat because my heart would start to race. My Fitbit showed my heart rate spiking to 144 bpm.
The next day I called Alberta Health Services for advice. I told them how I was feeling, but I could also tell them the data my Fitbit had collected. They recommended I go to an emergency room for a complete diagnostic.
That visit to the hospital was the beginning of a life-changing medical journey. The doctors determined that rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath were caused by several large blood clots in my lungs. Those clots, in turn, were caused by a large non-cancerous tumor in my abdomen. The tumor had grown so large that it had flattened my inferior vena cava, the largest vein in the human body. The constriction on that vein was causing the clots that were finding their way into my lungs.
Needless to say, it was scary and a lot to take in. I’m 28 and have been healthy and athletic all my life. But in truth, the experience was also pretty fascinating. I’m interested in medicine and medical procedures, and the doctors explained every step as we made a treatment plan. The strangest part was that, before my surgery to remove the tumor a few weeks later, they had to place a filter in that large vein to keep clots from escaping. I was so curious about the procedure that I didn’t take the sedative they offered so I could stay alert.
It’s been five months since the surgery, and I’m feeling pretty good. I’m again relying on my Fitbit to help me get back to shape and to keep an eye on my heart rate. My mom now has a Fitbit, and we have a friendly competition to encourage each other. When we talk on the phone, we often share how many steps we’ve taken that day and our Sleep Scores.
I have a few medical things to follow up on. There might be some scarring in my lungs, and there is a slight chance of a recurrence of the tumor. My surgeon told me to monitor for any symptoms. I jokingly told her that I managed not to notice the first tumor until it nearly killed me. But the truth is, with my Fitbit as a trusted companion, I’m way more in tune with my body now.
If I really think back, I had noticeable symptoms six months before I went to the doctor. I think COVID has caused a decline in people’s mental health. Feeling blue makes it even harder to take self-care seriously because we are less in tune with our bodies. That was true for me, at least. It was easy to avoid thinking about it and to put everything off.
I can honestly say my Fitbit saved my life as it helped me hear what my body was saying to me. I will never be without it.
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